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Entries in Travel (45)


My Montauk ship has sailed: A 2012 Hamptons recap

After completing my final 'summer 2012' weekend in Montauk, I wanted to share some of my favorite FYI's - eats and drinks - and my overall bitchy, judgmental opinions:

  1. Trying to snag a seat on the after-work/5-something p.m. Montauk-bound LIRR (that's the train, for those of you who are not aware) takes almost as much physical and mental exertion as does experiencing sorority rush in the South.  Why?  Because, physically, you're competing for *one* seat with hundreds, if not thousands, of young folks.  And, mentally, because most of these young folks are behaving like newly-unleashed freshman co-eds who have just "shot gunned" their first beer.  I swear, if I hear the word "bro," or the song, "Call Me Maybe," one more time...
  2. ...to that point, it's much more civilized to travel via the 7:45a.m. train on Saturday morning.  Unless you're in your 20's, it's not that big of a deal to 'miss out' on a Friday night. 
  3. The Hampton Jitney, namely the Ambassador Class, is my preferred method of NYC-bound transportation.  Too leJitney to quitney!  It's quiet, the bathroom is relatively clean, and free snacks + bottled water are passed throughout the journey.  
  4. But, let's face it, if you have a car or access to one, take advantage of your situation and drive!  Trust me, freedom of movement in the Hamptons is the ultimate luxury. 
  5. ...if you don't have access to a car, however, have cash on-hand for cabs.  Lots and lots of cash.
  6. My cab company of choice is Lindy's:  631-907-1111.
  7. Montauk is really, really far.  No matter what method of transportation you use (Aside from a helicopter, of course, Mr. Trump.).
  8. ...it's also a really, really young crowd. 
  9. That said, I've decided that I am much more of an East Hampton girl.  I love the location, the shops, the restaurants, and the fancy 'hustle-bustle.'  Plus, there's a healthier mix of ages (...in other words, I'm not considered a geriatric out there.).
  10. I perform horribly in communal living situations with parties over 4-6.  Did I not learn my lesson at camp, pre getting kicked out?  Sigh. 
  11. ...Many times, I'm just not in the mood to make 'small talk' with randoms or wear a perma-smile.  
  12. I feel like a fat, wrinkled/freckled, buck-toothed slob.  Why?  Because everyone in the Hamptons is beyond gorgeous.  Model-esque.  Men, women...and children, too!  Barely anyone is fat (Plastic surgery!  Cocaine?).  No one has wrinkles (Botox!).  And everyone's teeth are straight and blindingly white (Braces!  Zoom!  Veneers!).  It's kinda' like LA...only with a Brooklyn accent.
  13. ...oh, and everyone works out religiously, too.  Thank you Exhale, Soul Cycle, Tracy Anderson, and Flywheel!
  14. I prefer a pool to the beach.
  15. The butteriest, most delicious glazed sugar cookies *anywhere* can be found at Montauk Bake ShoppeI'm a big fan of the lighthouse variety, as seen in the picture, below.   
  16. The frozen margarita at Cyril's sucks.  Like, really bad.  But the signature "BBC (Bailey's Banana Colada)," sans the rum floater, is delish.
  17. The frozen margarita at The Sloppy Tuna, however, is awesome.  Perhaps the best on the South Fork!
  18. I absolutely loved reading the breakfast menu at Babette's, which contained items that I would showcase if I had my own restaurant.  An example:  "Huevos Deluxe" Beer-basted eggs, nachos with cheddar, salsa, avocado, and sour cream.  YUM!!
  19. The scenery and landscaping in the Hamptons is immaculate and second to none. 
  20. If you must do the beach, invest in a damn beach chair.  Unless, of course, you enjoy finding/feeling sand in odd crevices.  Laying on a towel just plain sucks.  And hurts.
  21. Believe it or not, there is actually decent Mexican food to be had in the Hamptons!  Great cheese enchiladas at Blue Parrot; yummy chips + guacamole, pork tacos, Mexican Coca-Cola (made with *real* sugar instead of corn syrup), and 'Mexican wedding cookies' at La Fondita



Until next summer,

The Lunch Belle


California dreamin' on such a humid (NYC) day...

How is it that I'm already back?  I thought, while staring out of my passenger's seat window in a random Manhattan-bound cab...

Every time I go to Southern California to visit my family (parents in San Diego - sister in Orange County), I always wonder what the hell I'm doing in New York.  Why?  Well, the weather, for the most part, sucks, 9 out of every 10 people are assholes, it's ridiculously expensive, the Mexican food blows, there's barely any green space, it's far away from everything and everyone, it's dirty and smelly...Shall I continue?  Then you have Southern California or, what my dad likes to call, "the Promised Land."  The weather is pristine year-round, the Mexican food rocks, the locals are friendly and actually smile at you (...and not just because they're a pedophile or high on crack), the landscape is breathtaking, the Pacific Ocean is warmer than the Atlantic (even if it is just by a few degrees), the produce is phenomenal, the cost of living is cheap compared to NYC, and I'd take a sun-kissed surfer boy over a douchey, Nantucket Red-wearing, East Coast-prep any damn day. 

"Nantucket Reds," for those of you lucky enough *not* to know what they are.  Until now.

Gahhhhh! Hate hate hate!! (Photo: Jenny Haniver dot com)At the end of every reunion, I hate having to say goodbye to my family.  Because I only get to see them 2-3 times/year, boarding that NYC-bound plane is always hard for me, and rarely tear-free.   But, the reality is, once I land in this gritty, grimy, either too hot or too cold city of mine, I am reminded that there's no where else I'd rather be.  California - while beautiful, laid back, and so many other glorious things - is a little bit too perfect for me.  I think that, because I thrive on pressure and am always up for a good challenge, I love New York.  Even with all of its flaws and proverbial road blocks.


Please enjoy some beautiful - and delicious - photos from my recent trip "home," in honor of America's birthday.  By the way, how did you spend the 4th of July?


No trip is *ever* complete without a combination plate (1 shredded beef taco, 1 cheese enchilada, rice and beans) from my favorite local Mexican spot, Juanita's Taco Shop.  Something about Christmas lights lining the perimeter of the roof, wrought-iron bars protecting the windows and doors, that scary chola cashier, and the fact that I have no clue what "Tepatitlan" means makes this place super fcuking legit. 

Make sure to grab some gratis homemade "Mexican Giardiniera" (pickled carrots, onions, and jalapenos) to accompany your meal!

Mexican combination plate:  1 shredded beef taco, 1 cheese enchilada, rice, and beans

The aftermath...


In what has become a tradition, we always grab a hearty breakfast at St. Germain's Cafe on my first morning in town.  Make sure to snag a table on the restaurant's lovely, shaded patio!

On this particular trip to the cafe, I opted for lunch, instead:  Red wine-poached pears, arugula, and brie on ciabatta with a side of garlic fries.


I was ecstatic to get to meet up with my great friend from college, Devon, later that afternoon.  We headed to Diversions Sport Lounge, overlooking La Costa Resort's new adult's-only edgless pool, to grab a margarita (or 3). 

Sweet and tangy, with the perfect amount of salt and extra lime, this traditional margarita was the best version I had during my trip.  Oh, and the view didn't suck too hard, either!  :) 


On Friday, Mom and I drove to Orange County to visit my sister.  For lunch, we indulged in a plethora of seafood at Newport Beach's The Crab Cooker

One thing that I found, repeatedly, across Southern California was that most menus did not feature *local* seafood.  Although delicious and incredibly fresh-tasting, everything, except for the halibut, at The Crab Cooker was either from Alaska or the East Coast.  WTF, man?

Ready to work for our food!

Locally-caught, simply-grilled halibut filet, sliced tomatoes, cheesy potatoes

Shrimp, cod, and veggie kebab, cole slaw, cheesy potatoes

Crab, vermicelli rice, cole slaw


After a window-shopping extravaganza at South Coast Plaza, we headed over to Fashion Island.  But, instead of shopping, we decided to grab cocktails at my sister's - and Real Housewives of Orange County - fave, True Food Kitchen.

Me, Mom, and LeilaWe each grabbed a margarita and shared a delicious Caramelized Onion Tart, with Smoked Garlic, Black Fig, and Gorgonzola.


As if we had not eaten enough during the day, we had dinner reservations a mere two-hours post our cocktails and snack at Corona del Mar's The Bungalow.

I whetted my appetite with a margarita, served up.

Homemade, parmesan-topped sourdough rolls were served with whipped butter.  I inhaled three before my entree arrived...

Colossal shrimp were accompanied by a horseradish-laden cocktail sauce

Our palettes were cleansed with a miniature scoop of lemon sorbet that was paired with a single basil leaf

For an entree, Mom and I split the filet, topped with blue cheese, fried onion strings, and sauteed mushrooms.  The steak sat atop a blanket of smashed potatoes.

This was, by far, the best cut of beef that I've had in recent memory.  I was able to cut each piece without the use of a knife!

We ordered the root vegetables - baby carrots, squash, and potatoes - as one of our two side dishes

...And creamed spinach

This meal was excellent from start to finish, making The Bungalow a new favorite.  I will make it a point to return here upon each visit to Corona del Mar.


On our last morning with my sister, we went to the Corona del Mar farmer's market.

Gorgeous, hand-made, glazed cherry turnovers

Heirloom tomatoes

Exotic flowers

Local white shrimp


On my last day in town, I grabbed lunch with a dear friend from college.  Beautiful Bethany owns the successful Bindu Yoga Studio in Del Mar.  She suggested dining at Haggos Organic Taco, a food truck serving healthy Mexican.

What a cool place!


As per the menu, I ordered the 'Cousteau' Fish Taco special:  Two grilled fish tacos (wild California seabass), organic brown rice and red beans, served with house-made salsa.  And, yes, it was every bit as delicious as it sounds!


Below, please find a list of the restaurants/markets that I went to in each town: 


  • Juanita's Taco Shop - my favorite Mexican food in the entire state of California; casual, no frills
  • St. Germain's Cafe - a solid cafe that offers al-fresco seating; great for a pre-surf breakfast!


  • Diversions Sport Lounge - bar at the La Costa Resort overlooking adult's only edgeless pool; best margaritas in town

Newport Beach

  • The Crab Cooker - casual, no frills, old fashioned; great atmosphere and fresh seafood (but not too many local offerings)
  • True Food Kitchen - tasty, albeit, expensive cocktails; al-fresco dining/drinking

Corona del Mar

  • Corona del Mar farmer's market - lovely local produce, seafood, baked goods, and flowers
  • The Bungalow - fabulous steakhouse serving some of the best beef I've had, to date; martinis; a definite "must" when in Corona del Mar


  • Haggos Organic Taco - healthy, fresh Mexican that doesn't suck; food truck with a fantastic al-fresco dining patio


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


Re-cap: Mohegan Sun's first annual "Sun BBQ Fest"

Last weekend, I was invited to cover Mohegan Sun's first annual "Sun BBQ Fest."  The three-day festival featured live bands, cooking demonstrations, a rib-eating contest, and plenty of saucy BBQ from some of the nation's best.  Talk about one protein-packed, finger lickin' good, hell of a fun time!

When I received my invitation, I was elated.  Who better than me, a displaced Southerner, to attend a BBQ festival?  I mean, come on, let's be honest here, y'all:  While I may live in Yankee territory, I am a Texan by birth and at heart. 

Mohegan Sun was generous enough to "and guest" me, meaning that I could invite a side-kick.  Without hesitation, I asked my fellow Texpat, Cathryn, to tag along.


Friday, June 1st

On Friday evening, Cathryn and I took a Connecticut-bound Amtrak train to New London.  The ride was nearly 3-hours!  Upon our arrival at the station, we were met by a *limo* from the Mohegan Sun.  Whoa. 

The two of us could not stop laughing, gawking, texting our friends, and snapping pictures of the car's interior and ourselves.  I'm pretty sure the driver wanted to kill us...

By the time we arrived and checked-in to the hotel, it was about 10pm.  The two of us were famished and in desperate need of a cocktail, so we headed downstairs.  Instead of reading every menu at each of the property's 40 restaurants, we put our indecisive ways aside and settled on Bar Americain.  

Mohegan Sun: Looking up at Bar Americain

Obviously, I got the party started with a margarita.  And a mighty tasty one, at that.  For my entree, I chose the "Gulf Shrimp & Grits, Bacon, Green Onions, Garlic."  I could have eaten two more portions but, instead, I chose to fill up on the contents of our bread basket:  Delicious, warm jalapeno cornbread and fluffy Parker House rolls.     

By midnight, Cathryn and I were sound asleep.


Saturday, June 2nd

I had my alarm set for 8:30am, as media check-in was to begin at 10am (the event was slated to commence at 11am).  When I reached over to the silence the beeping, I checked my email and was startled to learn that, due to the rainy forecast, the Festival would not start until 3pm!  Cathryn and I ended up going back to sleep until 12:30pm - something that, admittedly,  I have not done since college! 

After getting ready for the day and perusing some of the hotel's shops, it was time to check-in for the Festival. 

The Festival was held in one of the hotel's outdoor parking lots.  And, luckily, by 3pm, the rain had finally decided to take a little break. 

Rum sponsor: Sailor Jerry's

Beer? Yuck. Wine? No way. Champagne? Yes please!Fried Connecticut oyster po'boy sandwichPulled-pork sandwichGrilled cornMore pulled-pork!Texas Thunder BBQ's baby back ribsTexas Thunder BBQBeef brisket sandwich

After stuffing ourselves silly with champagne, baby-backs, and BBQ sandwiches, Cathryn and I were thrilled to learn that there would be a rib-eating contest at 4pm!  Hey, there's nothing better than watching someone (...other than yourself) binge eat! 

Setting the stage: Chairs would soon be occupied by the rib-eating contest contestants!Tray after tray after tray of ribs for the contest!EMS was on-hand just in case...!The contest's emcee The emcee picked a random guest out of the crowd to join the competitors! "Mitch" was the lucky guy!Whew! Look at those guns! I literally could not stop taking photos of this hottie. Damn!

Champion, Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, chugs water between rib inhalation.It was about this point in the contest when I felt a vibration in my purse.  Just as I was looking down to see who had called me, I heard something splatter on the stage.  Then, I inhaled "the whiff."  That's right, one of the contestants had PROJECTILE VOMITED on stage and, because of my close proximity, I was assaulted by chunks.  On my jacket.  On my purse.  On my cheek.  "Damn it," I squealed to Cathryn, "did this idiot not learn ANY drinking etiquette in high school or college?  Geez.  I thought EVERYONE knew to yack down and not up/across!  Jerk."

After the 12-minute rib-eating contest had finished, a winner was crowned:  Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, the world-famous competitive eater, took first place!  And, among all men, it was the adorable WOMAN who came in a close second!

The Lunch Belle and Joey "Jaws" ChestnutAfter changing in to different clothes and scrubbing puke off of my purse, Cathryn and I enjoyed our last evening at the hotel over wine and, even more, food at Ballo.

Marinated watermelon salad with stracciatella, crispy prosciutto, and pistachioMargherita pizzaRigatoni w/ spicy sausage ragu and fonduta...

Sunday, June 3rd

Because I had to be back in the city for a dance recital, Cathryn and I headed home on a 10:30am train.  It was during this nearly 3-hour ride in the "quiet car" that I was able to reflect on what I had experienced and learned over the weekend:

  • If you have plans to visit the Mohegan Sun, request a non-smoking (that is, if you do not smoke and/or enjoy the smell) room on a high floor.  The views are really quite lovely.Actual view from my hotel room!
  • The shops and restaurants at Mohegan Sun stay open later than those at the Wynn Las VegasWhat the hell is that all about?  Vegas needs to step it up. 
  • Always have cash on-hand to tip a driver, bell boy, maid, etc.
  • Texas BBQ kicks Tennessee BBQ's ass!!
  • Nothing is impossible:  A short, 90-pound woman can eat more than a man.  Even if the man in question is obese.
  • Always bring snacks aboard a train.  The cafe-car line can get redonkulously long.  And annoying.
  • Carry hand sanitizer.  And antibacterial wipes.  Always.  Because YOU NEVER KNOW what's going to happen!
  • Never sit within 10-feet of the competitors at a food-eating contest.
  • Apparently, being shat-on by a bird is good luck.  How about getting puked on?  Seriously, does anyone know the answer? 


Cathryn and I had a fantastic time at Mohegan Sun's "Sun BBQ Fest."  I hope to return again next year!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


48-hours in Sin City: Tips, Opinions, eats/drinks, and photos

After a whirlwind 48+ hours in Las Vegas, I thought that it would be fun and crucial to share some of my favorite tips, observations, experiences, and photos with you.  Enjoy!

1)  Flying Delta?  Not checking your luggage?  If you're checking in to your flight online, I highly recommend paying the extra $19 to a) upgrade to 'Zone 1' boarding, and b) have access to WiFi.  Not only will you get to board the plane first (behind old people, folks w/ children, etc. and First Class) but, because you're one of the first passengers, overhead storage bins will be virtually empty!  And, if you've never experienced it, WiFi at 35,000 feet is beyond cool and makes the dreaded flight time breeze by.  

2)  The taxi line at McCarren International Airport is as long and tangled as an accordion.  If you have no time to spare and/or plenty of money to burn, then do yourself - and your blood pressure - a favor and hire a private car to come and fetch you upon arrival. 

3)  And, speaking of taxis, make sure to have cash on-hand for payment.  While some vehicles now accept credit cards, you will be charged a hefty $3 fee just for swiping your plastic.  No thanks!

4)  Hate smoke?  Well, you're out of luck - because cigarette puffing is EVERYWHERE in Las Vegas.  Either deal with it or choose a different destination.  Seriously. 

5)  Guys:  If you DO NOT want to get laid, then make sure to wear jean shorts AND mandals.  At the same time. 

6)  If you need even more proof that the Kardashian's have taken over the world, then head over to The Mirage for confirmation.  Sigh.  Eye roll.  Gag.

7)  Curious to see the grand canal and the shops at The Venetian?  Fine, take a peak at the charming gondoliers - snap a photo or two - then do a pivot and get the hell out of there.  If you're not in to shit-shows and gnarly crowds, I highly recommend The Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace.   

8)  And, while we're on the topic of shopping:  If you absolutely DO NOT want to receive good service whilst shopping - especially at high-end indoor malls - then make sure and come dressed like this:

9)  If you think that 'people watching' in NYC or Venice Beach is outrageous, you ain't seen NOTHIN' yet.  Vegas, hands down, takes the blue ribbon for 'best people watching.'  Of all time.

10)  Ladies, a word of advice:  You may want to reconsider traveling to Vegas with your man.  Trust me, no matter how amazing you think you look - there is another chick(s) who's 100x hotter.  And, believe me, he will *not* be able to stop staring.  I couldn't, either.

11)  In some aspects, Las Vegas seems like a mini-Manhattan.  There are so many NYC outposts of restaurants, bars, and boutiques.  Some examples include:  Scoop, Intermix, Tao, 1Oak, Max Brenner, Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill...

12)  And, just like NYC, many restaurants in Las Vegas are outrageously expensive.  Actually, the prices in Vegas are even *more* offensive.  Be very mindful of food/drink menus and order wisely.  Mom, my Vegas travel buddy, and I would typically order a couple of appetizers and split one entree.  It was a great system that saved us both cash and calories!

13)  And speaking of restaurants

~ We enjoyed lunch at Stripburger, which is located on the outside of the Fashion Show Mall complex, and across the street from the Wynn.  How can you go wrong with outdoor seating - great cocktails - burgers cooked to your liking - fantastic fries, onion rings, fried pickles - and all of the ranch dressing that your heart desires?  

~ For dinner, we headed to Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico's Steakhouse, located within the brutally annoying/overwhelming/panic attack-inducing Grand Canal Shoppes at The VenetianMom said it best, "This entire hotel complex looks as though its architects and interior designers had high hopes, but ran out of money towards the end of construction."  The same observation could be said of the restaurant:  While you gaze up at beautifully vaulted, arched ceilings, the column to your left is squared-off sheetrock.  Blech.

Our dinner at Delmonico's Steakhouse was mediocre, at best.  Here are some of the key reasons that I would not return:

  • Mom's margarita was overly salty and sour (even for me, a salt/sour whore).  When we informed our server, he looked at us like we each had 10 heads.  While he did offer to have it remade, he sure as hell did not seem sympathetic or pleased.  We saw him take Mom's drink over to his manager and explain the situation with less-than-thrilled facial expressions and hand gestures.   
  • Drinks, round 2:  Our server got heated when, upon tasting the first bottle of red wine, I asked that we switch to something else (hey, it tasted carbonated and extremely sour). 
  • The iceberg lettuce leaves in the "Petite Iceberg Lettuce Wedges" salad were limp.
  • There was not enough burrata cheese in the "Vine Ripened Tomato Salad."  
  • Our filet was cooked "medium rare," instead of our requested "medium."  But, by this point in the meal, we were too exhausted to correct the order.

The one item on Delmonico's menu that I *would* return for?  The ridiculously rich, perfectly-scalloped and garlic-y "Potato Gratin" that arrived bubbling over the brim of a cast iron skillet.  I'm drooling just writing about it...

~ The award for 'worst service of the entire trip' goes to La Cave, a wine/tapas restaurant at the Wynn.  After returning to the hotel from our 7pm "The Beatles Love" performance, Mom and I were hungry.  We didn't want a full, elaborate meal; we were simply hoping to enjoy some heavy snacks and a great glass of wine.  

We arrived at La Cave at approximately 10:10pm, and were greeted by two hostesses.  "Hi.  Are you joining us for dinner or just drinks?"  Both.  "OK, we have a spot open at the bar.  You can squeeze in another chair, or we can seat you at a table.  But just an FYI:  We're closing our kitchen in 10-minutes, so we're having last-call."  How would *another* chair fit at the bar?  There's not enough room.  OK, we'll take a table, then.  "If you sit at the bar, then there isn't a 'last call,' you know."  Oh, so we can order food/drink at the bar w/out being rushed?  "No, you can only order food for another 10-minutes.  Even at the bar.  It's 'last call.'"  Huh?  I'm confused.  But you just said...never mind.  We'll take a table, please.  

The hostess seats us in front of an open terrace door, gushing the interior space with wind drafts.  I ask if we can, instead, be seated outdoors.  "There's not a table open."  The beotch was lying - I saw plenty of space out there - but I didn't have it in me to punch her in the face fight. 

Mom and I eventually moved ourselves to another table.  Since we ended up waiting for an unreasonable amount of time, I had to excuse myself and advise an employee that we'd like to see menus and, eventually, order food/drink.  We were served by a kind man who informed us that the kitchen did not close until 11pm.  Interesting point, since the HOstess lied to our faces and said that the "kitchen closes in 10-minutes (which would have been 10:20)."  

La Cave was a 'fail' on so many levels.  Our cheese platter was accompanied by crostini - Mom's wine was $17/glass - my margarita sucked - and the service was beyond heinous.   

14)  And speaking of the Wynn

Despite our shiteous experience at La Cave, Mom and I thoroughly enjoyed this gorgeous hotel.  Never, in my life, have I stayed in a more beautifully appointed and furnished room.  Every detail, down to the toiletry bottles being 'pop top' as opposed to 'screw top,' was incredibly well thought-out and delivered. 

Here are some of my favorite aspects of the hotel:

  • Our room was 640 square feet.  That's larger than my apartment in NYC!
    • *Our bathroom contained a separate tub and shower, plus 2 sinks!
    • *Lights and curtains were powered electronically, via a digital screen on the wall.
  • Unlike other hotels - especially other hotels in the immediate vicinity - every employee knew where each restaurant/shop/nightclub/pool was located on the property.  The staff was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly.
  • I never felt like I was at a Sandals resort or aboard a Carnival Cruise ship (while at the hotel):  You can use your imagination/make your own assessment of what I'm talking about...
  • The shops, while completely outrageous and extravagant, were fun to browse in and window-shop.


Mom and I had a fantastic "girl's weekend" in Vegas!  The people watching, weather, shopping, and hotel-hopping was priceless.  As was the 1x1 time that we got to spend together. 

I cannot wait to return to 'Sin City,' especially knowing all that I know now.  Do you have any tips or favorite experiences in Las Vegas?  Holla'!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

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